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Full text of "My Country And My People"

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of Tom Brown's mother in the English classic Tom Browtfs
School Days to "hold his head high and answer straight" and
the traditional parting instruction of the Chinese mother that
her son should "not meddle with public affairs." This is so
because, in a society where legal protection is not given to
personal rights, indifference is always safe and has an attractive
side to it difficult for Westerners to appreciate.

I think this indifference is not a natural characteristic of
the people, but is a conscious product of our culture, deliberately
inculcated by our old-world wisdom under the special cir-
cumstances. Taine once said that vice and virtue are products
like sugar and vitriol. Without taking such an absolute view,
one can nevertheless subscribe to the general statement that
any virtue will be more generally encouraged in a society
where that virtue is easily seen to be "good," and is more
likely to be generally accepted as part of life.

The Chinese people take to indifference as Englishmen take
to umbrellas, because the political weather always looks a
little ominous for the individual who ventures a little too far
out alone. In other words, indifference has a distinct "survival-
value" in China.   Chinese youths are as public-spirited as
foreign youths, and Chinese hot-heads show as much desire
to "meddle with public affairs" as those in any other country.
But somewhere between their twenty-fifth and their thirtieth
years,  they  all become wise ("hsuek huai liao"  as we say),
and acquire this indifference which contributes a lot to their
mellowness and culture.  Some learn it by native intelligence,
and others by getting their fingers burned once or twice.  All
old people play safely because all old rogues have learned the
benefits of indifference in a society where personal rights are
not guaranteed and where getting one's fingers burned once is
bad enough.

The "survival-value" of indifference consists, therefore, in
the fact that in the absence of protection of personal rights, it
is highly unsafe for a man to take too much interest in public
affairs, or "idle affairs," as we call them. When Shao P'iao-
p'ing and Lin Poshui, two of our most daring journalists,
got shot by a Manchurian war-lord in Peiping in 1926 without
even a trial, the other journalists naturally learned the virtue